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Monday, May 2, 2011

Death and Dying: Addressing the Hardest Medical Subject with Compassion


28 Nisan 5771

Today this blog is part of a Virtual Tour for the book you see above. I reviewed it months ago and came away deeply impressed.

Though the author and I do not think nor behave completely alike in spiritual terms, I want to praise Susan Avitsour for her candor and honest search for meaningful spiritual reconciliation with the death of her deeply loved child. Here is my review:

And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones Author: Susan Petersen Avitsour
Publisher: ZmanMa
Reviewer: Yocheved Golani

And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones can take you far from your expectations of a book about losing a child to cancer. The amazingly clear, honest prose can ennoble you no matter what you believe before reading the memoir. Listen as Susan Petersen Avitsour narrates - in her words and her daughter Timora's - the drama leading up to, during and beyond Timora's diagnosis. The family had learned it days before her bat mitzva.

On page 75 Avitsour relates that Timora, receiving chemotherapy and radiation suppressing adolescent development, "couldn't find her place in the world of young teenage girls…" Her body had reacted violently to the potentially life-saving chemicals. They filled her increasingly frail body while wreaking havoc on her emotions, as chemotherapy tends to do. Timora's poem about her predicament, on page 122, concludes "Please, /Open up a little crack/So I'll know – The world still contains a little light."

Timora would giggle, prepare craft projects, write poetry, dote on her parents, brother and sisters, act in school plays and pursue scouting activities while suffering two close calls at saving her life in six years. Her family faced them as mortals would: alternating between hope, despair, admirable emotional restraint and the exhaustion which opens the floodgates to pent-up emotions. Page 107 records the author wondering "And when Timora came down on one of her siblings [ed: tired of holding back for Timora's sake and of losing time with parents who necessarily supervised –and performed – Timora's medical care], whom was it more important that I protect – the child being unfairly attacked, or the child suffering from a mortal illness? There was no simple solution."

Observers don't necessarily appreciate the physical or psycho-spiritual pain influencing ill people and their loved ones. On pages 164-167, we hear proof of that as the heartbroken mother cries out for help during a support group meeting for halachically observant Jews. Tired of meaningless maxims about spiritual healing versus physical curing, Avitsour begs for genuine solace from the rabbinic speaker. Battered by ensuing insults about her theological beliefs, then by proclamations of religious superiority from the crowd, her agony lifts off the page: "A wave of exhaustion suddenly struck me; I didn't have the strength for this. I didn’t want to argue theology I wanted to connect emotionally. Wasn't that what we all had in common?"

Many readers will be able to identify with the author's sense of abandonment at the least expected of times. Clergy and therapists can gain insight into meeting the emotional needs of such people from the incident. Avitsour's search for meaningful spiritual comfort to her family's agony is the focal point of her book. She describes the unconditional love of fellow congregants in her Israeli bet knesset (synagogue) and her husband's delighted astonishment at an over-capacity crowd bone marrow drive publicized in a community newspaper. These and other uplifting parts of the Avitsour family's life enervated the parents, Timora and her siblings, as they faced six years' worth of unpredictable days.

Within a circle of female dancers on page 241, Avitsour describes her joy at the wedding of a bride the same age Timora would have been had both classmates reached that calendar date. "I couldn't help but share in the general elation at the young couple's happiness… But then I was struck once again by a fleeting vision of … Timora as she might have danced at her own wedding… I do not want to spend the rest of my life overcome with grief for what will never be… At the same time I don't want to run away from my sadness for her and all she might have become. To do so would mean running from Timora herself…"

On page 262, Avitsour concludes "G'D in His grace has granted me – indeed, granted to all human beings, wherever they stand [on the spiritual continuum] a healing force, a source of strength that exists quite apart from the dilemmas and doubts that inevitably arise in any intelligent religious discourse, and replenishes us when we are at our most depleted." Her prose dignifies the oft-misunderstood agony of parents before, during and after each stage of bereavement. 263-page paperback And Twice the Marrow of Her Bones invites unshed tears to fall and for honest communication to prevail so that emotional relief and repair can happen. It ends with one of Timora's poems, calling out across time:

And why.
Why live. Suffer. Fight, struggle.
Why pull and pull
like a wretched
miserable beast – For what.

In loneliness, in the dark,
in the cold.

How much have I asked,
and how much will I ask.
And I am not the only one
Not only when sorrow
blinds the eye
like a veil of tears.

But within me I know
And sometimes, like a flame
The answer blazes before me
- Love.

Therapists and bereaved relatives would do well to read this memoir several times.

Yocheved Golani is the author of highly acclaimed E-book "It's MY Crisis! And I'll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge" (

Face Your Medical Problems with Dignity.
Face Your Future with Optimism.


Susan Avitzour said...

Yocheved, thank you so much for your kind words about my book, and for posting them here. I'm sure your blog and ebook are helping many people. I hope very much that my book will also reach those people who may benefit from it.

Susan (Sara) Avitzour said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yocheved Golani said...